Issue 65, February 2014.

Leopolitan LADY: Miss Polonia 1930 - Zofia Batycka

Zofia was a beautiful, intelligent, talented, and successful young Leopolitan. At the age of just 20 she began a career in film and fell in love. But just when it seemed that glory, wealth and happiness was to be hers – fate decided otherwise.

Zofiya Batycka was born on a warm August day in 1907 into the noble family of a successful Leopolitan attorney. After finishing high school in Lviv she moved to Warsaw to begin her studies at the Warsaw School of Economics. At the time she had a romantic affair with Polish singer and actor Jan Kiepura, but they never married.

It was in summer 1928 when Jan Kiepura met the beautiful, then nearly twenty-year-old Zofia Batycka. She was tall and her round, girlish face had large, almond-shaped eyes that gave her a nostalgic look. At the same time as she was spending her first holiday with her family and the young singer in Truskavets, the idea of organizing the first beauty contest in Poland was already being discussed. It was the following year, in 1929, that the first Miss Polonia was crowned – a beautiful blonde clerk at the municipal Savings Fund in Warsaw, Władysława Kostakówna. Later that year at the Miss Europe contest in Paris, Ms. Kostakówna was narrowly defeated by the Hungarian contestant who, as many observers noted, was not actually better than Miss Polonia – only better connected. Thus, Ms. Kostakówna was widely considered the “unofficial” Miss Europe. The following year, the dark-haired Batycka attempted to succeed her in gaining the title ‘Most Beautiful Pole’. Only two years earlier, at the beautiful resort of Truskavets, Batycka didn’t even dream of participating in such a contest, let alone winning it and having thousands of men dream of her.

That summer in Truskavets, it’s not hard to imagine the beautiful Zofia looking all the more confidently into the eyes of the singing Janek, whom she admired not only for his wonderful voice, but also for his unconventional, world-wise demeanor. The confidence that Kiepura emanated was so contagious that the slightly shy Zofia became permeated with it during their two year affair. Indeed, it was Miss Batycka’s large, dark eyes that clearly enchanted Mr. Kiepura during his visit over the summer holidays to her family in the countryside.

Zofia and Jan’s fathers approved of the relationship and, as they were friends, soon decided that something should come from it. The couple was clearly attracted to each other. In fact, the relationship was so close that when Jan left for Poland after the summer break, they talked to each other on the phone nearly every day (not an easy task back then)! More than that, a lively correspondence took place between Vienna, Berlin, Milan, and Lviv – where the Batyckis lived with Zofia at Pekarska St. Both fathers, heartened at the sight of their children in love, were planning for a wedding to take place soon.

However, by the end of the year some disagreeable developments appeared in their idyllic relationship. It likely started during a meeting in Krakow, to which Jan had invited Zofia. Though she arrived with her parents, her father was upset at the singer for forcing his daughter to behave as if she, as he believed, “was chasing her man”. It was against all customs at the time for a young lady to travel to meet her fiancé! It seems that Dr. Batycki was very much attached to the social conventions of the day and these customs were untouchable. The young singer probably also exaggerated his stories of the “great world” he told the young girl from Lviv, likely hoping to impress her with his unconventional lack of respect for the “norms” of the day. Did he impress her? We don’t know. He definitely made Miss Zofia’s father furious which led to the man being against any further relationship. And that is what happened; each of the lovers went their own way.

Already a student, Zofia made her debut in film – starring in Polish films from 1929 and debuting in the silent Sfinks production “Grzeszna Milosc” (Zbigniew Gniazdowski, Mieczyslaw Krawicz) that was filmed partly in the Tatra Mountains. She followed that up with “Szlakiem Hanby” (Blonde Export, Mieczyslaw Krawicz, Alfred Niemirski), “Dusze w Niewoli” (Souls in Bondage, Leon Trystan), and her first ‘talkie’, “Moralnosc Pani Dulskiej” (Boleslaw Newolin). She went on to star in the short film “Kobieta, Która Sie Smieje” (Ryszard Ordynski), which was produced in Paris by Paramount, and the feature “Dziesieciu z Pawiaka” (10 Condemned), which was also directed by Ordynski, and starred Józef Wegrzyn and Karolina Lubienska.

She was already extremely popular when she won the title of Miss Polonia in 1930, after which she represented Poland at the Miss Europe 1930 contest in Paris. Unfortunately for Zofia, she finished behind Miss Greece Aliki Diplarakou, as well as Miss Belgium and Miss France, who finished second and third respectively. At the same time, however, Miss Batycka became the face of “Miraculum”, a cosmetics company with a long tradition that dated back to the turn of the century and the Leopolitan beauty was featured in dozens of illustrated magazines.

The following year saw Miss Batycka win the title of Miss Paramount, which saw her move to Hollywood in the hopes of pursuing a film career there. While away, Miss Poland couldn’t declare a winner in 1931 as Zofia had refused to hand over her crown as she claimed that she was “still the most beautiful woman in Poland” and that hers was a “perfect and unsurpassable beauty”. She simply refused to abdicate the throne of the beauty queen despite repeated requests and threats of the organizers. So the contest was suspended.

In 1932, Batycka had signed with the American label “International Artists”. This proved to be entirely unsuccessful as she would never do any movies in Hollywood. By 1934, she returned to Poland and for a time was a theatre actress. However, she soon gave up acting and ended up marrying a Dutchman that lived in Antwerp. Following the war she ended up moving back to the United States and settled in Los Angeles. After her husband’s death and that of her mother, she cared for herself by teaching foreign languages (as she had mastered four of them) and working at the “Bac Street Antiques” gallery. She ended up living in a nursing home in Los Angeles following her retirement where she died in obscurity in June 1989. What once looked sure to be a promising and lucrative career in movies ended up going out meekly in the warm, California sun.